WHAT IS THE HARDEST LANGUAGE? I posted here about a language in the North Caucasus that has 83 consonants and about how “nouns in Sanskrit may take up to twenty-one different forms, and verbs up to 150.” This article in the Economist’s holiday edition asks what the hardest language is. The article describes a number of ways that English is a relatively simple language, aside from peculiar spelling. Chinese dialects can have seven or eight tones and there are complex rules for how one tone can affect the pronunciation of neighboring tones. A language spoken in Botswana —“!Xoo”, but with markings on the two o’s that my keyboard will not reproduce— has vowels which include “plain, pharyngealised, strident and breathy, and they carry four tones. It has five basic clicks and 17 accompanying ones.” The Economist votes for Tuyuca, from the Eastern Amazon as the most difficult. The main reason that Tuyuca wins is that “Tuyuca requires verb-endings on statements to show how the speaker knows something. Diga ape-wi means that ‘the boy played soccer (I know because I saw him)’, while diga ape-hiyi means ‘the boy played soccer (I assume)’”. Daunting, but Google gave me this post about the Economist article on a linguistics blog that is fascinating but also daunting. Arnold Zwicky says: “Journalists might tremble at evidentiality, but it’s old stuff for linguists.” Zwicky points out that about a quarter of the world’s languages “have some type of grammatical evidentiality (marked by affixes, clitics, or particles).”

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Pingback: DOES LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK? | Pater Familias

  2. Pingback: MY WHORFIAN TENDENCIES. | Pater Familias

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.